Ice Cream and Poverty

by Rachel Pieh Jones on March 13, 2013

My 7-year old went to her Somali/Arab/Afar dance class one Saturday afternoon. The guard outside informed us that there was no longer dance on Saturday afternoon, no matter that we had signed up, no matter that we had paid just last week.

Discouraged, we ran errands instead and ended up at a store which sells Magnum Bars. Be thankful drool doesn’t come through the internet. Mmmm….Magnum Bars….mmmm…My husband was a country away, my twins were at boarding school two countries away, dance class was canceled…We decided to buy two ice cream bars and eat them while taking a stroll through the neighborhood together.

I left the store with three little white plastic bags of items like canned corn and tomato paste and toilet paper. As I reached the car I heard my Somali name.

“Luula! Luula!”

I knew immediately which woman it was, or rather, which type of woman it was, as awful as that sounds. And my heart sank.

Homes of hard-working, creative, intelligent people

Her type is beggar. Her name is Arwo. Her need is a black hole of desperation. I despise everything about how I think of her and confess my sin as quickly as it rises.

I put the groceries in the car, take my daughter’s hand, and walk to Arwo. We grasp fingers and ask after one another’s children. Mine are in a fabulous private school. Hers can’t afford the notebooks required to attend free local schools. People are staring. One man tries to shoo her away from me but we ignore him.

She asks for money, for 1,000 franc, about $5.50.

I say no.

She presses. I say no again.

We say goodbye and I leave her there on the corner. Lucy and I return to the car, take the ice creams out of the box where they have already started to melt. It may be the cool season, but this is still Djibouti, still the hottest country in the world.

We eat our ice cream and walk, hand in hand, and I feel sick.

I really struggled to find a photo. Wanted to be careful to not objectify or bow to stereotypes. So here is me and my lovely, holding hands.

I have a history with this woman and of wrestling with these issues of poverty, of wealth. It would be impossible to scratch the surface in a single post. Especially because the wrestling continues. I have no answer.

Should I have given her money? My reasons for saying no are complicated, guided by prayer, study, local counsel, experience. But they aren’t hard and fast, and I still waver.

Should I have offered her an ice cream bar? I know she wouldn’t have eaten it. She would have nibbled the top and left it to melt. Ice cream isn’t what she needs or wants or likes.

Should I have offered her the canned corn from my groceries? Maybe.

Should I have stopped struggling and wrestling and feeling guilty so I could enjoy the walk with my daughter? Probably.

If I ask, “What do you think/do/feel about poverty?” or “How do you handle or react to poverty?” I think the dialogue would be vague, massive, impersonal. Instead, I have presented you with one situation, one example, one narrow glimpse at an overwhelming issue many face on a daily basis.

I told you what I did. I’m not at all sure it was the right thing.

What would you have done? And, I’ll just go ahead and ask it: How do you deal with poverty?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                        Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

To read more about how I approach issues of poverty, here are two recent pieces that come at things from slightly different angles.

Contributing to Relational Poverty

Who is Poor? Who Decides?

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.
  • My Arwo is called Cheryl. She sits on the ground by the subway with her sign. She is miles away from your Arwo and instead of fighting heat, she huddles in cold weather. And sometimes I buy her tea. One time I bought her a muffin that she threw away angrily (I didn’t know she was a diabetic) one time I bought her shoes but the next day they were gone….I never give Cheryl money. I pass her everyday – and then I pray. I loved this post because you gave us a story. I hated this post because I hate how hard this subject is.

    • Your last two lines perfectly capture the tension, I think. Hard.

  • Glynis Wentzel

    Wow Rachel! We experienced this over and over on our trip to South Africa last summer, & yet as our kids are very quick to point out – we can experience it here a number of times each day if we chose not to look the other way/ ignore them/ etc.
    We have done 3 family mission trips to the border towns in south TX with our church and poverty there is unbelievable for being part of the US. Our first trip Jacob was 4 & Nita (not quite 2yrs), and it had such a HUGE impact on their little hearts/souls & lives. For Nita’s birthday last yr, she asked if we could have a “Johnny Bag” party (we pack gallon zip-lock bags with a new pair of socks, anti-bacterial lotion, wipes, either a tuna or chicken sachet, a V8 drink (serving of veggies), a bottle of water, granola bar & small bag of almonds & a list of local Christian resources for various needs). Each family left with 10 “Johnny Bags” (do not ask me why they chose to call these Johnny bags) to hand out to the homeless waiting at traffic intersections around town. At Christmas they asked if we could do this again for our family mission gift. We pulled together 20 bags and we pray over each bag and say a quick prayer for each recipient when we hand them over to them. It is a small thing (and we are not sure we are really helping) but at the same time we do not want to squash our kids desires and their hearts for helping people.
    We have also started volunteering as a family – once a month- at the local food bank. Feeling this may be another way we can show the kids how they can help families in need.
    Yesterday, while waiting with the kids at the bus-stop to head home after a fun time out, there was a homeless mentally ill lady waiting at the bus stop. I have seen her on many occasions & do tend to tread lightly around her as no-one knows what will “set her off”. My kids were eating some homemade oatmeal cookies (they each had 3) and this lady calmed herself down enough to ask the kids for a cookie – so that she was understood. Nita got up automatically & handed her one. I knew, as a medical person, a cookie was not what she needed at that time as she was smelling ketotic – like a diabetic almost about to go into a diabetic crisis. But I also did not want to upset her, trying to protect the kids from this woman’s rage (having seen her having an outburst with passengers on previous bus trips).
    We still find ourselves struggling with how to show our Father’s love & live our testimony while still trying to be wise as we know the kids are watching us and taking cues from us.

    • Thank you so much for sharing these stories and examples of service. The reminder that our kids are watching is especially potent.

  • There is no way to escape begging here except to hide in your compound and never answer the gate. I too often wonder should I reach into my grocery bag and give the beggar some of my purchase? Jesus said the poor would always be among us. But what is the answer? I too pray and sometimes give when truly felt lead by the Spirit and try not to give out of guilt. I could drive myself crazy over guilt. We have a nice compound, a nice truck, great school for our kids, enough food, roof over our heads. etc. No answers only more pondering and prayer.

    • I think you raise a good point – not giving out of guilt. The NT is clear that God loves a cheerful giver and that anything that doesn’t come from faith is sin. Maybe when faced with these situations I need to examine my convictions, philosophy, and counsel from locals, but also my guilt/joy and where my faith is in that moment?

    • Taab

      When Jesus said the poor would always be among us, as He often did He was quoting from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 15:11,) where it continues, “That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.” 15:10 makes clear the context of Jesus statement was not to say there are so many poor people that we should not do anything, but just the opposite.

      Sounds like you are seeking the heart of Jesus in asking Him in each situation what to do, and that is where I suspect He wants us. And as others have pointed out, sharing freely with the poor doesn’t necessarily mean giving money to a beggar (though on occasion it might), but perhaps helping with job creation or a host of other initiatives that will not create dependency and leave one in poverty, but help lift them above it. Of course, it is ‘easier’ and ‘quicker’ to just fork some money over, but I think ultimately all of us here commenting and caring are truly seeking longer-term empowering answers and actions.

      It is a tension for sure though, as helping the poor is seldom about a quick fix, but the immediate need in front of us, along with either our compassion or uncomfortableness (or both), often seems to call us to do something immediately, even though it might in the end be hurting rather than helping in the long run. A critical prayer for me as I live in this tension and must rely on calling out for His wisdom each time is, “Lord, help me not let me heart grow numb.”

  • Tanja

    This is the question of my life! I have a degree in development studies, which basically is a program designed to answer the question “Why are people poor, and what can we do about that?” But you know what? They don’t give a satisfying answer to that question. They just tell you the big, theoretical schools of thought about it…

    Back to earth; I sometime gives to beggars. Far from always. Around here, there tend to be several around the doors of the shops or markets, and they ask for alms whey you are about to leave, arms full of bags and kids, trying to navigate into the car. I never give in those situations. It is just impossible to try to fish money out of my bag without losing track of my toddlers or any of the bags of groceries. I do give if I see a person that is maimed, missing parts of their bodies, otherwise not able to do regular work. Those people don’t flock to the car at the curbside, though because they would never be able to get through the rest of the crowd of healthy people.

    I am in this country to help the poor. But I choose to focus my energies and money investing in a long-term project that will benefit more people, and help them work themselves out of poverty. Instead of trying to beg themselves out of it. I don’t believe it is possible to exit poverty by begging, only by working. Begging is a short-term “band-aid” solution, that I realize is some times the only option for some people. That is why I am always quicker to give to people with physical disabilities that can not use their bodies to farm or wash, or whatever they otherwise could have done.

    Theoretically, you could say that begging places the responsibility of caring for the “have-nots” on the “haves”. Working is all about taking responsibility for oneself. So I would much rather help somebody work, even if it’s just for a day that I will pay for, than giving them money without requiring anything back. (again – this goes only for people that are physically/mentally able to work).

    And we also have to realize that work is something God applauds. God shows Himself as a worker time after time in the Bible, as a gardener, a maker of clothes, a potter, a builder, an architect, a carpenter, and the list goes on and on. Work gives us dignity, it creates wealth, and it produces valuable items or services that the rest of the community can make use of.

    • Wow, what a great, thoughtful comment. So much to chew on here. My husband is a professor and is working on a doctorate in educational development and he often reminds me that in serving this way we are helping the poor. It is less immediate and less tangible perhaps, but with a more long-term goal in mind. And I find what you said about how God applauds work to be really helpful for me, thinking of him as a worker is a moving image. I’m going to add it to my mental pictures when I wrestle with this.

      And thinking about work as affecting the entire community for the better – that’s also really helpful. Thank you, I knew this would be a place to find wisdom and experience on this topic.

  • this is so much one of those issues where each one has to determine in his/her heart. how do you walk away? but still recognize that i can’t, as one person, make a dent. and then there’s that crazy parable about the starfish and making a difference for one… striving to let each one see Jesus, if even only a glimpse. so usually? i give food to women, the boys from the koranic schools. i buy cards from the guy in the wheelchair and use them for thank you notes. i give change to the physically and mentally disabled. we provide small jobs for friends and neighbors when they come asking for help. we give rice, tomato paste, bouillon cubes and whatever fresh veggies i have on hand when people actually make an appointment and come ask for help with food for their family. we’ve taken people who are obviously sick to a local doctor we know and trust who does benevolent work for those who can’t afford it. but most of this is just drop in the bucket sort of stuff – alleviate the problem for the moment. then i started into literacy work, helping arrange sewing lessons for friends interested in working as tailors, making connections with a local merchant for friends who make bread/tortillas/peanut butter and all sorts of networking. we have entered into longer term relationships with some of the people we’ve helped, as well.

    frankly, i’ve come to the point where i think there isn’t a right or wrong answer – but a right or wrong attitude in my hearts as i do whatever it is that God has laid on my heart (or as i judge what another does… or try and tell them what i think they should do). i can greet, chat and give – and never really see, care about or show God’s love to a person. or maybe i don’t do something in such a tangible way, but do communicate a little of God’s amazing love. am i “earning” points, trying to win an audience, trying to make the quickest escape possible, avoiding a messy situation… or am i trying to be Jesus to those God’s brought into my path that day?

    • Thanks Richelle. It is so helpful to see what other people do, how they have decided things, and why. I agree, no right answer. It sounds like you have put a lot of thought into it, which is also helpful to hear. Sometimes I wonder what goes through others’ minds, am I nuts? You know? But the attitude, the desire to love, and to show respect, as well as generosity is so important.

  • Pari Ali

    I think that God, who made everything in such perfect balance, created the imbalance of poverty and riches for a good reason. He put mercy and kindness in the human heart, filled human minds with intelligence and a sense of justice and taught them charity. I personally have always felt that God has put the onus of achieving a balance in wealth upon the human being. There sometimes seems to be no reason why one person is extremely wealthy and the other has to look for scraps. If He puts someone in my path then there is a reason for it.

    I have certain rules I follow. I never give to beggars on the street in India, not money at least as there is a huge beggar mafia there. I prefer to give food. Amoong the many a couple of incidents come to mind. There was this one occasion when I and my daughter were sitting in an open air restaurant in Mumbai and a beggar said she wanted to eat the same thing I was eating. I was surprised but ordered it. Another time I gave a packet of biscuits to this little girl, she said thank you in English so sweetly and politely, i wanted to hug her and take her home.

    There was another incident when my younger one was 5 years old, we were sitting in an auto -rickshaw at a signal and a girl about her age came begging for money. I refused and my daughter said “Mom would you say no if that was me”? That really shook me up, especially from one so young. I remembered the words “There but for the Grace of God,. go I”

    Here I have a few ladies who come to my home and collect whatever I can afford to give them. These are genuine cases, one is from Bangla Desh and she works as a cleaner in a school, she is not young and seems to have health problems, what i give her augments her income. Another is a person who has not come for a long time now. She is Syrian with a number of children and a sick husband. i always take out some money and keep it aside for anyone who comes to the door. I feel that even with all that God has given me I am constantly going to His door and asking Him and so it would be terrible to reject anyone who He sends to my door.

    There are many people in India, hardworking, lower middle class people, who are just not able to make ends meet with the shooting inflation. My mum is friendly with a few and she keeps telling us that so and so needs money for books or fees or something else. We do what we can.
    I also give work to people to help them out. I prefer to go into lanes looking for for eg. a tailor’s shop and get something stitched rather than buy a brand at a mall. I buy from a number of itinerant salesmen in India.
    Why did God give me more money than I need if not to help His Creatures. Surely i have not done anything special to merit it. The amount we spend so thoughtlessly on a movie or a dinner outside or even a piece of clothing can sometimes feed a family for a week, where would this money be better spent?

    • Pari, thank you for this reply that gives such a good window into your reality and convictions. Something I thought of while reading your stories is that one time I had not given to someone and my son, then about 5 years old, said, “mom, Jesus wants you to give to that boy.” I also think your attitude about buying from the local merchants in the street is a good and practical one. They aren’t begging but are working, and need the business more than the large stores and restaurants.

  • Marcy Payson

    What would I have done in your
    situation? I can’t tell… I haven’t lived the experiences you have,
    and struggle to even imagine much of what you’ve lived.

    In my own little bubble, I am the rich.
    At our church, the fact that we have enough money to buy a new car
    when ours starts needing constant repair & don’t worry about
    where the money for groceries will come from, puts us somewhere near
    the top third of the congregation. I live in a mobile home, and am
    surrounded by people who feel they are poor because their house is
    rundown – NOT because they are homeless. They are “poor”
    because they cannot afford to eat every meal at a fast-food
    restaurant, NOT because their kitchen lacks for food or electricity.
    The fact that my home is a double-wide, and less than 30 years old
    defines me as “rich” where I live.

    I am rich, because I know HOW to
    shop secondhand and make many things by hand. My ability to stretch a
    dollar allows us comforts we would otherwise not be able to afford.
    When I see first-world poverty, I feel frustration – and try to
    share with others what I have learned. I have talked to SO many
    people about spending wisely because this is what I know best.

    In my neighborhood I help rarely,
    because the help is scorned. Furniture or outgrown bikes/sandboxes
    that are too large to bring to the church gets carried to the
    sidewalk, and carried away by neighbors within hours. We help shovel
    driveways and mow lawns for a few neighbors, but that’s it. Most of
    our help is at church. Outgrown clothing, smaller furniture &
    housewares are brought in to be donated to the needy. We help sort &
    organize the food for our church’s food shelf, and we make up several
    boxes for Christmas Child operations each year. Our kids help us
    choose a different charity to help financially each year, and My
    daughter chose this winter to secretly make gifts for a few families
    she felt would not have much of a Christmas. The biggest thing I do
    though, is work with the kids. The children I see need LOVE more
    than food or things – so that is what I give them.

    • Marcy. Wow. I love that you brought first world poverty into this conversation. Your perspective is such a valuable one and you have certainly thought a lot about it. It is so good to hear how you are wise, careful, and make the most of what you have and how help is received in your neighborhood. I think the focus on church as a place to help is a wise one because it encourages people into a community and faith. Also that you include your kids and then focus on working with the kids and LOVE. True, true. Thanks for this fantastic comment.

    • sandy

      This is excellent I feel so brightened by reading your thoughts. I am so glad I stumbled across this wonderful blog and can read these comments underneath them. It encourages, challenges and inspires me. We have some homeless men in this town. Buying them hot drinks and talking to them are what I have been doing. I use to do street ministry in NY and Pittsburgh. I have a heart for these people and it is one of the hardest ministries ever. Soup kitchens are another place I was privileged to experience. I miss those times.

  • I live with this tension everyday. But I think I would have made the same decision you did. If I had not made that decision, I would have felt frustrated that I didn’t listen to my gut instinct. Its hard. Thanks for sharing.

  • Greg

    I live with this everyday where my family and I live and serve among the gypsies in the poorest country in Southeastern Europe. Gypsies are known for begging and manipulation. It’s a part of their culture and survivor mentality. And, one thing I don’t do, is dish out money to the poor. Jesus didn’t hand out money. He often met a physical need (healing, giving an extra hand, helping, providing food, etc), but He never gave money. And, after He met a physical need, it was always followed with a spiritual truth and/or lesson (i.e. go and sin no more, your faith has healed you, has anyone condemned you, etc.).

    I would have likely bought Arwo a loaf of bread or maybe hand the can of food over to her if she was really desperate. But, I would have called her out on it too. Do you have work? Are you using your money wisely? How come every time I see you you’re asking me for money? It’s ironic, most of the beggars in our neighborhood don’t work. And, it provides us with a great opportunity to tell of God’s design for them and for their obligation to work and provide for their families.

    You have already likely heard of the book. But, I highly recommend “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor” by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. It opened my eyes on how best to serve the poor in the context of their culture and not through my western eyes.

    • Yes – excellent book that I come back to often. I like the questions you ask people – making sure the giving isn’t without a larger context and a call for something more – work, faith, etc. I have begun engaging more with beggars rather than ignoring them out of pure overwhelmed-ness and these are some more good questions. I’ll often ask kids why they aren’t in school but hadn’t pressed on the work aspect.

  • So many great responses here! Thanks for bringing this topic to the table, Rachel. I love to read what you write. You always rip my guts out… but I am somehow grateful for that excruciating service. Carry on, lady, you are doing well!

    Oh the mantra of apologies we make to our Maker. I know that whispered regret well. I often wonder, in the dark parts of my soul, if God cares. If he designed poverty. If we are royally missing something about how this Kingdom living thing is supposed to work, because it looks like it’s not working very well, so we must be doing something wrong, right?

    The questions rub. Then a callous forms. And it hurts for a bit. Then not so much. And then I am sure my heart has hardened beyond repair. It is a difficult task to live among the neediest, be not considered needy, yet need so many answers to so many questions.

    But, it’s good that you brought these things up. Any wearing down of the hard parts in my heart is welcome. Thank you.

    • Yikes – the mantra of apologies we make to our Maker. That is a gripping sentence, something I want to think about for a while. I had also felt so hardened and then we took a year out and came back and somehow everything burned again and I want to keep growing in my response and my faith.

  • Here in South Africa there are “Arwo’s” at what seems like every robot (stop light). They stand with there torn, dirty clothes, holding there “Help me, GOD bless you signs” and come to your window begging you until you either give or totally ignore them. It’s not easy to turn my head and it’s not easy not to give.

    As I look at these “Arwo’s” I ponder in amazement that I am not where they are. How did we receive such favor that we could trust our Heavenly Father to provide our every need even when we don’t know where the next funds for groceries will come but the many “Arwo’s” do not have the same faith to trust Him? How did we find such favor to know the faithful provision and protection of our Heavenly Father?

    Do we give to the “Arwo’s” what has been faithfully entrusted to us for the work of the Kingdom especially when we don’t know what they are using the money for? When we give to meet a need, we never give money to the “Arwo’s” and we always present the gospel message BEFORE we give to meet the need. I’m not saying that it is the right way but it is the way that works for us. Will we ever be able to come to a “cookie cutter” answer for this problem? (I don’t think so) Surely our Messiah was right… we will always have the poor with us!

    Great post… Hard topic!

    • Yes – hard, and yes – probably no true answer. But what has become so clear to me through these comments is that people are thinking deeply and compassionately and I am ultimately encouraged. Though we (probably) won’t see an end to poverty in the here and now, it is ‘rich’ to be part of a community of people who are not turning the other way but are engaging and struggling.

  • Tricia

    Interesting topic, whether in the US or on the field!

    We just moved to an area in the US where there are a ton of transients and drunks on the street and my husband and I were discussing last night what we are called to do. My daughter was taking out the garbage a couple days ago and one stopped right by her to urinate in the street; two or three are typically sitting on the curb drinking; there was a guy with a push-cart walking down the street (highway) the other day as we drove by who fell over right as we passed, obviously drunk. Often these guys are out with signs begging for food, which of course we’ve all seen wherever in the world we live.

    I often think that because I have never been an alcoholic or homeless that I could never relate to these people, and that reaching out to them is someone else’s job. Especially in a country where welfare is available and plentiful, jobs are relatively easy to come by for those who really want one, and homeless food ministries are everywhere.

    We have friends who collect items to give to homeless people, like sleeping bags, tarps, food, etc., but I feel like they are just facilitating sloth and vice. I have stopped to give a specific item and pray for someone on the street, but at least in the city we lived in for several years, the church has done a really good of a job of passing out bibles, sharing the gospel, and every homeless person has “prayed the prayer” a dozen times. But without transformation in most I think.
    Thanks for posting an interesting topic from an honest point of view!

    • I wish I had a better reply to your comment Tricia, but all I can think is that you have raised some of the issues and clearly addressed some of the struggles, why this is so hard.

    • sandy

      One thing that comes to mind when reading the above post: Jesus said to give generously It is more blessed to give than to receive He said forgive 70 x 7. He said to give , pour it out and don’t judge. We have no idea what these people are feeling or thinking. We have no idea what impact it is having. We have no idea if these pour souls go pray and cry at night for God’s help. But I know that God is responsible for the outcome. We’re responsible for the giving.

      • Tricia

        Well, yes and no. Jesus did say forgive 70×7, give generously, and separately he said not to judge. But if you look at Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t just run around giving indiscriminately to whomever stuck their hand out to him. Especially if you consider the American system of welfare, and the results of free give-aways with no incentive to do anything, we have to be thoughtful about our giving. Plus the bible also says that if you don’t work, you shouldn’t eat. Of course God tells us to be generous, but he also tells us to be wise.

  • I don’t feel like I have a coherent response–especially since moving temporarily to a new country, where engaging with the poor with my children alongside me seems (sigh, I hate this) more risky than in the States. I want to engage, I want to be intentional, and I am out of my depth. Jesus, help!

  • Rachel, you’ve done it again– caused us to think and struck at the heart of the issue . . which is the heart.

    I remember specifically one time in a market walking among beggars with my kids who were all deformed . . . legs and arms twisted. And for the first time in my life, I wanted Jesus to be there so badly to heal them, like he did when he walked earth. And my kids and I, we talk about that night still . . . as we talked about what it would have meant to watch Jesus walk up to one of those on the streets and to have that arm or leg be immediately untwisted. It was this powerful moment for me and for them.

    Such great discussion here– thanks for leading it, Rachel.

    • What a powerful moment, Laura. Even more so as you shared it with your kids. So good for them to see the brokenness and not to ignore it or to be silenced in talking about it – but to think of Jesus in that situation. Our kids need to have those kinds of conversations so they have vocab and words to the depth of emotion. Just yesterday a man came to my 7-year old in the car window and growled and flashed a stump hand in her face. She was frightened at first, then sad. And we need to help them process those things – the broken things.

  • Can i just say, too, that i LOVED your caption for the first picture . . . oh, this, THIS, is the attitude we need to have towards the “poor”– Thank you for having it.

  • Gary Ware

    My dad taught me by example to give something to a needy person. NOT every person but some. I lived in Turkey decades ago and as in America, there are “poor” people with some living in “poverty”.

    poor: adjective
    1. having little or no money, goods, or other means of support: a poor family living on welfare.

    pov·er·ty: noun
    1. the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.
    Poverty denotes serious lack of the means for proper existence: living in a state of extreme poverty.
    I have observed poor people asking/begging for help and gradually progress out of surviving into living. People living in poverty may be there because of their culture (class, caste system) and it is a condition of their state of mind. Poor people having hope can band together as a community and improve their condition(s). People in poverty almost never improve because their will to change or hope to improve is bankrupt.
    I also have observed poverty minded people given cheep/free government housing destroy the complex within one year; while poor people qualify for HUD housing make their payments, maintain their community improving their lives.
    I learned to give without expecting anything in return from the receivers. I do not try to change their lives, just encourage, when possible, them better days and conditions are possible. 20 – 30 years later, I see the same homeless ones struggling while discovering others had found jobs, got into a mission, then apartment, etc. I can leave on office building downtown, encounter the regulars (some whose minds are almost gone), greet them, give them a couple of bucks our of my clean nice suit, get into our expensive car to drive to our beautiful home and sleep well every night.
    God retains responsibility for the care of his flowers, small birds and all humans. I do my part and leave the rest to him. Compassion and love is part of my/our assignment but guilt never was.

    • Your last lines are so wonderful and freeing, yet inspiring. That God retains responsibility, we do our part, love, have compassion, but guilt is not supposed to be part of that. It really does help me feel free, thank you for this wisdom.

    • sandy

      This is excellent. I am an empath and it is hard for me to not feel guilt but I don’t believe guilt is supposed to be there. Empathy is not suppose to be filled with guilt. I need to ask God how to use this heart of mine in the right ways

  • i need help with this! and i think it differs from culture to culture, situation to situation. also, as much as i had to admit it, being an american in a country that is not america changes things. sometimes when i am asked by a dirty little kid with no shoes on for “cinco pesos” (about 15 cents) i think, “what’s the harm? it’s just 5 pesos.” but then i know that that little boy will tell every other little boy that the american with tattoos hands out money. and that could make things unsafe for not just myself but the other americans i work with here in this city.

    if i have food, i give food. if the person asking doesn’t have shoes, i give shoes. but more often than not i just shake my head and keep walking. ugh, even to admit it hurts my heart.

    i think the biggest thing that stood out to me was that this woman knows your name and more importantly that you know her’s. if it helps, you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of me, who still avoids eye contact with beggars on the street. (again, cultural because looking a man in the eye can be trouble here. they’re usually already calling things out to me – again, because i’m american – and making eye contact and smiling could seem to them an invitation.) this issue of poverty and how to address those with their hands out is a hard on. i’m glad we are discussing it.

    for me in the states there was always a shelter or church or food program i could direct people to. here in this country, in this city, there’s nothing i know of. that makes it harder.

    • Sometimes we direct people to the local church or mosque but usually they scoff at that suggestion. I used to ignore them, but have been convicted from the Word that Jesus looked at people. I’ve started talking with them and have begun to see regulars who know I don’t give but will still stop and talk for a while and they seem to enjoy the conversation, then they move on. But mostly that is with women or children, I don’t engage the men much either, for similar reasons as you said.

  • I have another train of thoughts that goes along with this post – God’s Word teaches – God shall supply for the needs of His own according to His riches in glory – and I get it that how I or some other man/woman define needs might not match with God’s definition… But how do I reconcile that biblical truth with the fact that so and so needed malaria medication to continue living – but couldn’t buy it and died… or this other one needs rice to feed her children – but has not… or the young widow who lost his wife and home in a fire and now has no shelter for either him or his still very young family… Or why does it seem that so many Christians in North American have their basic needs met… while so many in W. Africa and Haiti don’t… and there’s thousands of other examples I could list. I can’t find the article now, but I also read an article that asks this question – Why do Jesus followers starve to death… Why doesn’t that verse hold true for them? Could it be that God has supplied the financial and physical resources – but part of His church selfishly hoards their supply so that they can have in excess while others waste away from want? Am I, in any way, living a lifestyle that reflects hoarding more than it does giving and sharing? I don’t always like the answers at which I arrive when I ask myself that question.

    • Good question – what about the promises? The church needs to be, and is being, challenged to think differently. I need to challenged to think differnetly – about my choices and priorities and expectations. I do appreciate what Gary says in another comment about, in a sense, we need to be obedient and faithful, but the pressure is on God, not us.

  • Holly Matos

    I would simply like to say “Thank you”, Rachel for having the transparency to write this blog. I’ve been encouraged by some of these comments and especially the fact in knowing that I am not alone in this daily struggle. As we become more and more like Jesus everyday, may he teach us how to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.

  • Sue Raj

    Dear Rachel, I get it! I used to think I understood poverty, we were taught to give to the poor, be generous, then Honduras happened. I met and married a wonderful guy and we have been living in his country for the past 13 yrs. Now I had considered myself a person who was poor, who ws blessed with an education and an opportunity to change her circumstances…so when I stark raving poverty of Hodnuras jumped up in front of me..I started changing my definition of me of my thinking etc….at first I gave the kids on the streets money, then natives said ..stop, wait, observe…either the money was going to ill use or some adult was lurking waiting to collect from the children. It was hard to beleive…do I contribute to their abuse by facilitating it…how do I help??? Then once I saw a group of young boys in an internet cafe, with wads of singles playing grand theft auto!! That was it I made a resolve to only give food or water or none if they refused my aid. At times i get the mean stares from folks who look at u as why not it is just a 1.00 lps (.02US) but …I cannot be a facilitator either…they know when they see me if they want food to eat I will share, but sometimes they don’t want the help…it is hard to understand this…I pray that God will open a way for me to be able to mentor young teens, help show them that they can make a difference but they need FAITH in our Lord and humility to go to homes where “cleaning up involves rules” where obediance is done in love not out of obligation! I get that encounter bet u and Arwo. I see it evryday I stop at a traffic lights and they same kids run-up to my car everyday!

  • Sue Raj

    There is a book called “When Helping Hurts” it is so true! If you want to take away a man’s will to survive give him everything! I work in education too and my hope is to be able to train teachers in Honduras to become more passionate about the kids to keep them in school to be that beacon of light despite their circumstances.

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  • Shari Tvrdik

    Living in the slums of Mongolia for the last 5 years I have ‘bounced’ this weighty thing one around more than any other issue since I’ve arrived here. There is only one answer that I can deal with. Stay real close to Jesus. Ignore all other voices. The voices of reason, the voice of other well intentioned ‘workers’…the voice of appeasement, the voice of guilt, all of them…..must not be obeyed. And at that….I face each person fresh and new and I ask Jesus…’ok what do we do this time?’. As cliche missionary as this sounds…it is the only thing that has made a difference in my living out these moments. I feel free of dread now when I’m faced with this. I can walk away without regret regardless of what response I gave….IF I am listening for the right answer. It has truly rescued my heart. I am really encouraged by your post and always love reading stories that make me think, “hey…so I’m not the only one!”

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  • davisha

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